Pic via dbmathews.com

Tuesday marked the 12th National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and advocates are focusing “on empowering Black Americans to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic through education, testing, engagement, and treatment.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fort Lauderdale, points out that “from new HIV infections to deaths, it is an unfortunate fact that Black men and women experience the most severe HIV/AIDS burden of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. In 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Blacks accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections while representing only 14 percent of the U.S. population.”

A 2010 Florida Bureau of HIV/AIDS snapshot of the HIV epidemic (.pdf) shows that 49 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS in Florida are black.

The Belafonte Tacolcy Center in the Miami neighborhood of Liberty City, in partnership with the Jessie Trice Community Health Center and Empower U, served as an HIV testing site Tuesday. The Belafonte center’s Denise Rainey told The Florida Independent that “today marks history for Tacolcy.”

“In the 40-plus years that we have been here,” she said, yesterday was the first time the center had been an HIV testing site.

Rainey, who coordinated the event, added that the idea for Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was “to give people more knowledge as well as doing testing, so Empower U came out with their mobile units.”

She added that if “you look at the HIV rates in Liberty City, [it] is really high in the ZIP codes surrounding this area,” adding that her passion is fueled because a family member died of complications due to AIDS. “Our mission is to keep families and you do that by meeting their needs,” Rainey said.

“As I walked the community yesterday to do outreach, I noticed we still have people ignorant about the virus itself and the disease,” Rainey said about social barriers to HIV testing.

She added that people are willing to come out when the center reaches out, but ignorance about HIV is expressed in phrases like “It doesn’t affect me,” or “I don’t need to know” or “If I have HIV I’m going to die,” adding that people are afraid to know if they are HIV-positive and that fear stops them from getting tested.

Hastings’ statement adds: “Healthier communities begin with healthier individuals. Alarmingly, approximately 1 in 5 Americans living with HIV do not know that they are infected, increasing the likelihood of late diagnosis and transmission to others.”

Hastings introduced the Increasing Access to Voluntary Screening for HIV/AIDS and STIs Act in May 2011; the measure would establish a policy for voluntary HIV/AIDS and STI screenings “that focuses on at-risk and historically underrepresented communities.” The act is sponsored by 50 representatives, all of them Democrats.

The National Minority AIDS Council points to “‘Treatment as Prevention and expanded health care coverage that will accompany the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” as providing “the best opportunity in three decades to bring an end to this terrible epidemic.” The group adds that as the most impacted group, leadership within the African-American community “will be critical if we are to successfully translate this promise into reality.”

In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded Florida more than $22 million directed to prevention activities under the high impact prevention approach, and “for the first time, health departments are required to direct at least 75 percent of CDC funds in this category to four key areas: HIV testing; comprehensive prevention services for HIV positive individuals and their partners; condom distribution; and efforts to align policies to optimize HIV prevention, care, and treatment.”

The CDC also announced that in its other funding category, Florida received more than $6.6 million along with other states and cities “with large numbers of African-Americans and Latinos living with HIV” to “expand access to HIV testing services, primarily in healthcare settings, for these populations and others heavily affected by HIV.”

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